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The Leopard, the Tortoise, and the Bush Rat: A Efik Folktale

Cross River State Nigeria - Folkli
General Location: Cross River State / Map data ©2018 Google

This Efik folktale tells the tale of a tortoise who sought revenge on a leopard, and of the bush rat that took pity.

At the time of the great famine all the animals were very thin and weak; but there was one exception, and that was the tortoise and all his family, who were quite fat, and did not seem to suffer at all. Even the leopard was very thin, despite having eaten the grandmothers and mothers of all the other animals.

In the early days of the famine the leopard had killed the mother of the tortoise, and the tortoise determined if possible to seek revenge. He had discovered a shallow lake full of fish in the middle of the forest, and every morning brought back enough food for himself and his family.

One day the leopard met the tortoise and noticed how fat he was. As he was very thin himself he decided to watch the tortoise, so the next morning he hid himself in the long grass near the tortoise’s house and waited patiently, until at last the tortoise came along carrying a basket which appeared to be very heavy.

The leopard sprang out, and demanded to know what was inside the basket. The tortoise tried to trick him by saying that he was carrying firewood, but the leopard had a very acute sense of smell, and knew at once that there was fish in the basket.

“I know there is fish in there, and I am going to eat it.”

The tortoise, not being in a position to refuse, replied:

“Very well. Let us sit down under this shady tree, and if you will make a fire I will go to my house and get pepper, oil, and salt, and then we will feed together.”

To this the leopard agreed, and began to search about for dry wood, and started the fire. In the meantime the tortoise waddled off to his house, and soon returned with the pepper, salt, and oil; he also brought a long piece of cane tie-tie, which is very strong. This he put on the ground, and began boiling the fish.

Then the tortoise proposed they play a game while waiting for the fish to cook. He suggested they take turns tying each other to the tree. When the tied up animal said “tighten” the other should loosen the rope, and when the tied up animal said “loosen” the rope would be tightened. As a show of good faith, the tortoise agreed to be tied up first.

The hungry leopard thought that this game would make the time pass more quickly, so he agreed to play. The tortoise then stood with his back to the tree and told the leopard to loosen the rope. In accordance with the rules of the game, the leopard began to tie up the tortoise. Soon the tortoise shouted “tighten” and the leopard at once unfastened the tie-tie, and the tortoise was free.

Then it was leopard’s turn, so he stood up against the tree and called out to the tortoise to loosen the rope, and the tortoise very quickly passed the rope several times round the leopard and secured him to the tree. Then the leopard shouted “tighten”; but instead of playing the game in accordance with the rules, the tortoise ran faster and faster with the rope round the leopard, taking great care to keep out of reach of the leopard’s claws.

All this time the leopard was calling out to the tortoise to let him go, as he was tired of the game; but the tortoise only laughed, and sat down at the fireside to eat his fish. When he had finished he packed up the remainder of the fish for his family, and prepared to go, but before he started he said to the leopard:

“You killed my mother and wanted to steal my fish. I shall leave you to starve.”

He then threw the remains of the pepper and salt into the leopard’s eyes and quietly went on his way, leaving the leopard roaring with pain.

All that day and throughout the night the leopard was calling out for someone to release him, and vowing all sorts of vengeance on the tortoise; but nobody came, as the people and animals of the forest do not like to hear the leopard’s voice.

In the morning, when the animals began to go about to get their food, the leopard called out to everyone he saw to come and untie him, but they all refused, as they knew that if they did so the leopard would most likely kill them at once and eat them.

At last a bush rat came near and saw the leopard tied up to the tree and asked him what was the matter, so the leopard told him that he had been playing a game of “tight” and “loose” with the tortoise, and that he had tied him up and left him there to starve. The leopard then implored the bush rat to cut the ropes with his sharp teeth.

The bush rat was very sorry for the leopard; but at the same time he knew that, if he let the leopard go, he would most likely be killed and eaten, so he hesitated. But this bush rat, being rather kind-hearted, and having had some experience of traps himself, could sympathise with the leopard in his uncomfortable position. He therefore devised a plan.

The bush rat first started to dig a hole under the tree. When he had finished the hole he came out and cut one of the ropes, and immediately ran into his hole to see what would happen; but although the leopard struggled frantically, he could not get loose. The bush rat crept out again and very carefully bit through another rope, and then retreated to his hole as before. Again nothing happened, and he began to feel more confident, so he bit several strands through one after the other until the leopard was free.

The ravenous  leopard, instead of being grateful, made a dash at the bush rat with his big paw, So close was the bush rat’s escape as he leapt down his hole, that the leopard’s sharp claws scored his back and left marks which he carried to his grave.

Ever since then the bush rats have had white spots on their skins, which represent the marks of the leopard’s claws.

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Why the Moon Waxes and Wanes: A Efik Folktale

Cross River State Nigeria - Folkli
General Location: Cross River State / Map data ©2018 Google

This Efik folktale tells the tale of the moon, who took pity on a starving old woman until the people scared her away. 

There was once an old woman who was very poor. She lived in the bush, in a small mud hut thatched with mats made from tombo palm leafs. And since there was no one looking after her, she was often very hungry.

In the old days the moon often came down to the earth, although she lived most of the time in the sky. The moon was a fat woman with a skin of hide. She was quite round, and in the night used to give plenty of light.

The moon was sorry for the poor starving old woman, so she came to her and said, “You may cut some of my meat away as food.”

This the old woman did every evening, and the moon got smaller and smaller until you could scarcely see her at all. Of course this made her give very little light, and people began to grumble, and to ask why the moon was getting so thin.

At last the people went to the old woman’s house where there happened to be a little girl sleeping. She had been there for some time, and had seen the moon come down every evening in order for the old woman to cut her supply of meat. And as she was very frightened, she told the people all about it.

That very night the moon came down as usual, and the old woman went out with her knife and basket to get her food; but before she could carve any meat all the people rushed out shouting, and the moon fled back into the sky, and never again came down to the earth. The old woman was left to starve in the bush.

Ever since that time the moon hides herself most of the day. And while she always gets fat again, giving plenty of light, this never lasts. Soon she begins to get thinner and thinner, just like in the days of the old woman who carved her meat.

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The Leopard, the Squirrel, and the Tortoise: A Efik Folktale

Cross River State Nigeria - Folkli
General Location: Cross River State / Map data ©2018 Google

This Efik folktale tells the tale of the tortoise, who his his mother from the leopard, and of the squirrel who could not.

Many years ago there was a great famine throughout the land, and the people were starving. The yam crop had failed entirely, the plantains did not bear any fruit, the ground-nuts were all shrivelled up, and the corn never came to a head; even the palm-oil nuts did not ripen, and the peppers and ocros also gave out.

The leopard, who lived entirely on meat, did not care for any of these things; although some of the animals who lived on corn and the growing crops began to get rather skinny. In order to save himself trouble, he called a meeting of all the animals .

The leopard reminded the gathered animals that he was very powerful and demanded that they bring their grandmothers to him for food, and after that their mothers. He warned them that if the grandmothers or mothers were not forthcoming he would turn upon the young animals themselves.

The young generation, who had attended the meeting, agreed to supply the leopard with his daily meal in order to save their own skins,

The first to appear with his aged grandmother was the squirrel. The grandmother was a poor decrepit old thing, with a mangy tail, and the leopard swallowed her at one gulp, and then growled out: “This is not enough; I must have more food at once.”

It was then the turn of a bushbuck, and after a great deal of hesitation a wretchedly poor and thin old doe tottered and fell in front of the leopard, who immediately despatched her, and declared that his appetite was appeased for that day.

The next day a few more animals brought their old grandmothers, until at last it became the tortoise’s turn; but being very cunning, he produced witnesses to prove that his grandmother was dead, so the leopard excused him.

After a few days all the animals’ grandmothers had been eaten, and it became the turn of the mothers to serve as food for the ravenous leopard. But although most of the young animals did not mind getting rid of their grandmothers, whom they had scarcely even known, many of them had very strong objections to providing their mothers.

Amongst the strongest objectors were the squirrel and the tortoise. The tortoise knew the same excuse would not avail him a second time. He therefore told his mother to climb up a palm tree, and that he would provide her with food until the famine was over. The tortoise then made a basket for his mother, and attached it to a long string of tie-tie. The string was so strong that she could haul her son up whenever he wished to visit. He then instructed her to lower the basket every day, and promised that he would place food in it.

All went well for some days. The tortoise went at daylight to the bottom of the tree and placed food in the basket; then his mother would pull the basket up and have her food, and the tortoise would depart on his daily round in his usual leisurely manner.

The leopard meanwhile still had to have his daily food, and the squirrel’s turn came first. He was forced to give his mother as food to the leopard. But although he was a poor, weak creature and not possessed of any cunning, the squirrel was very fond of his mother. When she had been eaten he remembered that the tortoise had not brought his grandmother and determined to set a watch on the movements of the tortoise.

The very next morning, while he was gathering nuts, he saw the tortoise walking very slowly through the bush, and being high up in the trees and able to travel very fast, had no difficulty in keeping the tortoise in sight without being noticed.

When the tortoise arrived at the foot of the tree where his mother lived, he placed the food in the basket which his mother had let down already by the tie-tie, and having got into the basket and given a pull at the string to signify that everything was right, was hauled up, and after a time was let down again in the basket.

The squirrel was watching all the time, and when the tortoise had gone, jumped from branch to branch to tell the leopard that the tortoise had hidden his mother away.

The leopard was enraged, and told the squirrel to immediately lead him to the tree. But the squirrel explained: “The tortoise only goes there at daylight, when his mother lets down a basket; you must go early in the morning, she will pull you up, and then you can kill her.”

The next morning the squirrel led the leopard to the tree where the tortoise’s mother was hidden. The old lady had already let down the basket for her daily supply of food, and the leopard got into it and gave the line a pull; but except a few small jerks nothing happened, as the old mother tortoise was not strong enough to pull a heavy leopard off the ground.

When the leopard saw that he was not going to be pulled up, he scrambled up the tree, and when he got to the top he found the poor old tortoise, whose shell was so tough that he thought she was not worth eating, so he threw her down on to the ground in a violent temper, and then came down himself and went home.

Shortly after this the tortoise arrived at the tree, and finding the basket on the ground gave his usual tug at it, but there was no answer. He looked about, and came upon the broken shell of his poor old mother. The tortoise knew at once that the leopard had killed his mother, and from that moment forward he lived alone and wanted nothing to do with the other animals.

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The Fat Woman who Melted Away: A Efik Folktale

Cross River State Nigeria - Folkli
General Location: Cross River State / Map data ©2018 Google

This Efik folktale tells the tale of a beautiful fat woman, and of the jealous woman who tried to get rid of her. 

There was once a very fat woman who was made of oil. She was very beautiful, and many young men applied to her parents for permission to marry their daughter, and offered dowry. But the mother always refused, as she said it was impossible for her daughter to work on a farm, as she would melt in the sun.

At last a stranger came from a far-distant country and fell in love with the fat woman. He promised her mother that, would she hand her to him, he would always keep her in the shade. At last the mother agreed, and the stranger took his wife away.

When he arrived at his house, his other wife immediately became very jealous, because when there was work to be done, firewood to be collected, or water to be carried, the fat woman stayed at home and never helped, as she was frightened of the heat.

One day when the husband was absent, the jealous wife abused the fat woman so much that she finally agreed to work on the farm, although her little sister, whom she had brought from home with her, implored her not to go, reminding her that she would melt away if she went into the sun.

All the way to the farm the fat woman managed to keep in the shade, and when they arrived at the farm she remained in the shade of a big tree. When the jealous wife saw this she again began abusing her, and asked her why she did not do her share of the work.

At last she could stand the nagging no longer, and although her little sister tried very hard to prevent her, the fat woman went out into the sun to work, and immediately began to melt away. There was very soon nothing left of her but one big toe, which had been covered by a leaf.

This her little sister observed, and with tears in her eyes she picked up the toe, which was all that remained of the fat woman, and having covered it carefully with leaves, placed it in the bottom of her basket. When she arrived at the house the little sister placed the toe in an earthen pot, filled it with water, and covered the top up with clay.

When the husband returned and asked where his fat wife was, the little sister, crying bitterly, told him that the jealous woman had made her go out into the sun, and that she had melted away. She then showed him the pot with the remains of her sister, and told him that her sister would return to life again after three months, but demanded he send away the jealous wife, so that there should be no more trouble; if he refused to do this, the little girl said she would take the pot back to their mother.

The husband then took the jealous wife back to her parents, who sold her as a slave and paid the dowry back to the husband, so that he could get another wife. When he received the money, the husband took it home and kept it until the three months had elapsed, when the little sister opened the pot and the fat woman emerged, quite as fat and beautiful as she had been before. The husband was so delighted that he gave a feast to all his friends and neighbours, and told them the whole story of the bad behaviour of his jealous wife.

Ever since that time, whenever a wife behaves very badly the husband returns her to the parents, who sell the woman as a slave, and out of the proceeds of the sale reimburse the husband the amount of dowry which he paid when he married the girl.

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Why Dead People are Buried: A Efik Folktale

Cross River State Nigeria - Folkli
General Location: Cross River State / Map data ©2018 Google

This Efik folktale tells explains how the creator’s gift of immortality was lost because of unreliable messengers.

In the beginning of the world when the Creator had made men and women and animals, they all lived together in the creation land. The Creator was a big chief, and being very kind hearted, was very sorry whenever anyone died.

One day he sent for the dog, his head messenger, and told him to go out into the world and give his word to all people that whenever anyone died the body was to be placed in the compound, and wood ashes were to be thrown over it. If the dead body was left on the ground, in twenty-four hours it would come back to life.

When the dog had travelled for half a day he began to get tired. As he was near an old woman’s house he looked inside, and seeing a bone with some meat on it he made a meal off it, and went to sleep, forgetting the message he was supposed to deliver.

After a time, when the dog did not return, the Creator called for a sheep, and sent him out with the same message. But the sheep was very foolish, and being hungry, began eating the sweet grasses by the wayside. After a time he remembered that he had a message to deliver, but forgot what it was exactly; so as he went among the people he told them that whenever anyone died they should be buried underneath the ground.

A little time afterwards the dog remembered his message, so he ran into the town and told the people that they were to place wood ashes on the dead bodies and leave them in the compound, and that they would come to life again after twenty-four hours.

But the people would not believe the dog, as they already received the word from the Creator from the sheep, that all dead bodies should be buried. As a result dead bodies are now always buried, and the dog is not trusted as a messenger, because if he had not found the bone in the old woman’s house, dead people might still be alive.

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Why the Hippo lives in the Water: A Efik Folktale

Cross River State Nigeria - Folkli
General Location: Cross River State / Map data ©2018 Google

This Efik folktale tells the tale of the hippo Isantim, who challenged the guests at his feast to discover his name. 

Many years ago the hippo, whose name was Isantim, was one of the biggest kings on the land; he was second only to the elephant. The hippo had seven large fat wives, of whom he was very fond. But the curious thing about Isantim was that, although everyone knew him, no one except his seven wives knew his name.

At one of the feasts he used to hold, just as the people were about to sit down, the hippo said, “You have come to feed at my table, but none of you know my name. If you cannot tell my name, you shall go away without dinner.”

As they could not guess his name, the guests had to go away and leave all the good food and tombo behind. But before they left, the tortoise stood up and asked what the hippo would do if he found out his name before the next feast. The hippo replied that he would be so ashamed of himself, that he and his whole family would leave the land, and forever dwell in the water.

Now the tortoise knew well that the hippo and his seven wives went down to the river to wash and have a drink every morning and evening. The hippo always walked first, and the seven wives followed.

One day when they had gone down to the river to bathe, the tortoise made a small hole in the middle of the path, and then waited. When the hippo and his wives returned, two of the wives were some distance behind, so the tortoise came out of hiding, and half buried himself in the hole he had dug, leaving the greater part of his shell exposed.

When the two hippo wives came along, the first one knocked her foot against the tortoise’s shell, and immediately called out to her husband, “Oh! Isantim, my husband, I have hurt my foot.” At this the tortoise was very glad, and went joyfully home, as he had found out the hippo’s name.

When the next feast was given by the hippo, he made the same condition about his name; so the tortoise got up and shouted as loud as he was able, “Your name is Isantim,” at which a cheer went up from all the people, as they sat down to their dinner.

The hippo, and his seven wives, in accordance with his promise, went down to the river, and they have always lived in the water ever since; and although they come on shore to feed at night, you’ll never find a hippo on the land during the daytime.

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The Cock Who Caused a Fight: A Folktale of Calabar, Nigeria

Calabar Nigeria - Folkli
Pinpoint Location: Calabar, Cross River State / Map data ©2019 Google

This folktale from Calabar tells the tale of Ama Ukwa, whose schemes caused a fight between Duke Town and Old Town. 

Ekpo and Etim were half-brothers, that is to say they had the same mother, but different fathers. Their mother first of all had married a chief of Duke Town, when Ekpo was born; but after a time she got tired of him and went to Old Town, where she married Ejuqua and gave birth to Etim.

Both boys grew up and became very rich. Ekpo had a cock, of which he was very fond, and every day when Ekpo sat down to meals the cock flew on to the table and feed also.

Ama Ukwa, a native of Old Town, who was rather poor, was jealous of the two brothers, and made up his mind to bring about a quarrel between them, although he pretended to be friends with both.

One day Ekpo, the elder brother, gave a big dinner. Etim and many other people were invited. Ama Ukwa was also present. A very good dinner was laid for the guests, and plenty of palm wine was provided. When they had commenced to feed, the pet cock flew on to the table and began to feed off Etim’s plate. Etim then told one of his servants to seize the cock and tie him up in the house until after the feast. So the servant carried the cock to Etim’s house and tied him up for safety.

After much eating and drinking, Etim returned home late at night with his friend Ama Ukwa, and just before they went to bed, Ama Ukwa saw Ekpo’s cock tied up. So early in the morning he went to Ekpo’s house, who received him gladly.

About eight o’clock, when it was time for Ekpo to have his early morning meal, he noticed that his pet cock was missing. When he remarked upon its absence, Ama Ukwa told him that his brother had seized the cock the previous evening during the dinner, and was going to kill it, just to see what Ekpo would do. When Ekpo heard this, he was very vexed, and sent Ama Ukwa back to his brother to ask him to return the cock immediately.

Instead of delivering the message as he had been instructed, Ama Ukwa told Etim that his elder brother was so angry with him for taking away his friend, the cock, that he would fight him, and had sent Ama Ukwa on purpose to declare war between the two towns.

Etim then told Ama Ukwa to return to Ekpo, and say he would be prepared for anything his brother could do. Ama Ukwa then advised Ekpo to call all his people in from their farms, as Etim would attack him, and on his return he advised Etim to do the same. He then arranged a day for the fight to take place between the two brothers and their people.

Etim marched his men to the other side of the creek, and waited for his brother; so Ama Ukwa went to Ekpo and told him that Etim had got all his people together and was waiting to fight. Ekpo then led his men against his brother, and there was a big battle, many men being killed on both sides. The fighting went on all day, until at last, towards evening, the other chiefs of Calabar met and determined to stop it; so they called the Egbo men together and sent them out with their drums, and eventually the fight stopped.

Three days later a big palaver was held, where each of the brothers was told to state his case. When they had done so, it was found that Ama Ukwa had caused the quarrel, and the chiefs ordered that he should be killed. His father, who was a rich man, offered to give the Egbos five thousand rods, five cows, and seven slaves to redeem his son, but they decided to refuse his offer.

The next day, after being severely flogged, Ama Ukwa was left for twenty-four hours tied up to a tree, and the following day his head was cut off.

Ekpo was then ordered to kill his pet cock, so that it should not cause any further trouble between himself and his brother, and a law was passed that for the future no one should keep a pet cock or any other tame animal.

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The Bush Cow and the Elephant: A Efik Folktale

Cross River State Nigeria - Folkli
General Location: Cross River State / Map data ©2018 Google

This Efik folktale tells the tale of a fight between the bush cow and the elephant, which greatly angered the chief. 

The bush cow and the elephant had an argument because the elephant was always boasting about his strength, which made the bush cow ashamed of himself, as he always considered himself a good fighter that feared no man or animal.

When the matter was referred to the chief, he decided that the best way to settle the dispute was for the elephant and bush cow to meet and fight one another in a large open space. He decided that the fight should take place in the marketplace.

When market-day arrived, the bush cow took up his position on the main road to the market, and started bellowing and tearing up the ground. After a while the bush cow heard the elephant trumpeting, and breaking down trees and trampling down the small bush. When the elephant came near the bush cow, they charged one another, and a tremendous fight commenced, in which a lot of damage was done to the surrounding farms.

Many people who saw the fighting were frightened to go to the market, and returned to their houses. But the monkey, who had been watching the fight from a distance, thought he would report what he had seen to the chief.

When the chief heard that the elephant and bush cow, instead of fighting where they had been told, were having it out in the bush on the main road leading to the market, and had thus stopped most of the people coming in, he was much enraged. Calling for his bow and poisoned arrows, he went to the scene of the combat. He then shot both the elephant and the bush cow, and throwing his bow and arrows away, ran and hid himself in the bush. Six hours later the elephant and bush cow died in great pain.

Ever since, wild animals won’t fight on the public roads; but as the fight was never definitely decided between the elephant and the bush cow, whenever they meet one another in the forest, they always fight.

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Lightning and Thunder: A Efik Folktale

Cross River State Nigeria - Folkli
General Location: Cross River State / Map data ©2018 Google

This Efik folktale tells the tale of Thunder and Lighting, who caused so much damage on earth that they were forced to move.

In the old days thunder and lightning lived on the earth amongst all the other people, but the king in all his wisdom made them live at the far end of the town, as far removed as possible from other people’s houses.

Thunder was an old mother sheep, and Lightning was her son, a ram. Whenever the ram got angry he used to go about and burn houses and knock down trees; he caused damage on the farms, and sometimes he even killed people.

Whenever Lightning did these things, his mother used to call out to him in a very loud voice to stop and not to do any more damage; but Lightning did not care in the least for what his mother said, and when he was in a bad temper he often did a large amount of damage. At last the people could not stand it any longer, and complained to the king.

The king made a special law that forced the sheep (Thunder) and her son, the ram (Lightning), to leave the town and live in the bush. This did not do much good, as the ram burnt the forest, and the flames spread to the farms.

The people complained again, and the king banished both Lightning and Thunder from the earth and made them live in the sky, where they could not cause so much destruction.

And yet, to this day, when Lightning is angry he causes damage as before, and you can hear his mother, Thunder, rebuking him and telling him to stop. Sometimes, however, the mother is at some distance from her naughty son, and you can see that he is angry, but his mother’s voice is nowhere to be heard.

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Why the Cat kills Rats: A Folktale of Calabar, Nigeria

Calabar Nigeria - Folkli
Pinpoint Location: Calabar, Cross River State / Map data ©2019 Google

This folktale from Calabar tells the tale of the rat, who fell in love with a servant girl and stole from the king to win her affection. 

Ansa was King of Calabar for fifty years. He had a very faithful cat as a housekeeper, and a rat was his house-boy. The king was an obstinate, headstrong man, but he was very fond of the cat, who had been in his store for many years.

The rat, who was very poor, fell in love with one of the king’s servant girls, but since he had no money he was unable to give her any presents.

At last he thought of the king’s store. Being quite small, he had little difficulty sneaking through a hole in the roof during the night. He then stole corn and native pears, and presented them to his sweetheart.

At the end of the month, when the cat had to render her account of the things in the store to the king, a lot of corn and native pears were missing. The king was very angry at this, and asked the cat for an explanation. But the cat could not account for the loss, until one of her friends told her that the rat had been stealing the corn and giving it to the girl.

The cat told the king, who had the servant girl flogged. He then handed the rat over to the cat to deal with, but dismissed them both from his service. The cat was so angry at this that she killed and ate the rat.

Ever since that time cats try to kill and eat rats wherever they find them.

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